From Beirut To Minneapolis. A protest guide in solidarity
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From Beirut To Minneapolis

A protest guide in solidarity

In solidarity with protesters in Minneapolis and other American cities, Lebanese technologists, protesters, and activists put together this document as a guide for escalating protests and documenting police abuse. We recognize that our experiences and lived realities are different, but in the same way that we’ve found solidarity with Hong Kong and Chile protesters, we wanted to extend ours to others.

Organizing in a surveillance state

The current US organizing environment relies heavily on technology. While this is a valuable tool, it also has increased method to surveil and disrupt political and community organizing. The following information outlines some of the known ways US government agencies use tech to surveil organizers and additional tech and harm reduction tips for organizers.

Law Enforcement & Data Collection

This is a non-exhaustive list of some of the known methods and tools used by law enforcement to monitor political organizing. If possible, work with lawyers or organizations working on surveillance to help enforce legal protections against illegal data gathering and learn about the methods used for arrests or other law enforcement actions.

Note: Methods for data gathering are regulated by legislation and data sharing agreements between agencies. Because law enforcement agencies are not always lawful and numerous agencies are involved in suppressing political action, we do not differentiate data collection methods by legal boundaries of different agencies.

  • Social media monitoring
    • Posts that are public
    • Connections between people, networks, and events (who is following whom, who is in a group, who RSVPs to events, who is posting to which hashtags, etc.)
    • Author writing style analysis to determine unique elements of writing styles for anonymous accounts
  • Communications metadata and content
    • Telephone networks (including cell phones)
      • Police have built strong relations with telephone communication providers and can have direct access to parts to call detail records and text metadata
      • Call detail records, such as: which number is calling, which number is being called, when the call occurs, how long the call was, approximately where each phone number is located
      • Text message metadata, such as: which number is sending a text, which number is receiving a text, when the message occurred, how long the message is
      • Text message content usually requires a warrant
      • Real-time access to phone calls usually requires a warrant
    • Internet service providers (ISP)
      • Which IP address/device accesses which websites and when
      • If the website does not use HTTPS, the ISP and law enforcement could see all of the content of the website
  • Non-public information provided to a web service, such as emails and direct messages, usually require a warrant or similar to access
  • Palantir is a known platform used by US law enforcement to help automate the gathering of public information (e.g., facebook posts, tweets, twitter followers, etc.) and visualize/analyze it

Thinking about tools and services to use

  • Compliance with warrants and information requests will depend on the relationship of the company to the US.
    • Companies with an office in the US are required to comply with requests from US law enforcement.
    • Countries with close ties to the US share intelligence information (e.g., Five Eyes countries) and some can compel companies based in their country to share data with the US.
  • For non-public communications, try and use a tool that cannot access your data (best option) or collects the minimal amount of information with barriers in place to prevent complying with US law enforcement requests.
  • If possible or necessary, build your own communication infrastructure at a local level. Some great examples are:

Organizer Communications

  • Expect law enforcement and other disruptors to attempt to infiltrate organizer communication networks.
  • Use a secure communication platform that has end-to-end encryption with forward secrecy, and device verification, and disappearing messages if possible.
    • Device verification should allow you to 1) check in person that the person you think you are talking to is the person you are talking to and 2) notify when a new device is added or the device changes. This can give notification if someone is claiming to be a trusted person to surveil on communications.
    • Forward secrecy protects past messages from being available to new devices and new group members.
    • Some recommended tools:
      • Signal - Requires a phone number, but probably the best option.
      • Wire - Best option that doesn't require a phone number to be shared; very secure, but disappearing messages cannot be set for all people at once.
    • Email, even if encrypted, should only be used as a last resort because of how much metadata it produces that cannot be secured and the lack of forward secrecy.
  • Consider what information is shared among organizers and consider moving to a compartmentalized communication structure. If an organizer is arrested, law enforcement will try to turn them into an informant.

Other

  • Misinformation and disinformation are becoming common methods to disrupt public access to protest information and to combat organizer's messaging. Be sure to plan for it in public communication strategies
  • Law enforcement will monitor events for their planning. Think about ways this can be used to an organizing advantage.
  • Phone lines sometimes must be used. Assume any information communicated over a phone line is monitored and adjust communications accordingly.
  • Learn from and build solidarity with organizers and activists who have experience communicating under surveillance. This can include organizers and activists before the rise of tech and organizers in countries experienced operating under surveillance.
  • Tech is a tool, not a solution.